Now CBS Frets Gas Prices Are Too Low

After spending much of the spring and summer hyping the dire consequences of rising gas prices, CBS on Thursday night decided the plummeting cost of gas at the pump is really bad news. Noting that “crude settled at about $58 a barrel today, that's about $90 less than it was in July,” fill-in CBS Evening News anchor Harry Smith warned “that comes as a mixed blessing.”

Reporter Mark Strassmann found an ecstatic man paying less than $2.00 a gallon, but Strassmann spoiled the mood: “Low gas prices are also bad news and the lower prices go, the worse the news gets.” An “oil analyst” explained: “This is just a reflection of the poor state of the economy and the oil market is reflecting this global slow down.” Strassmann soon fretted over how “it's also a grim time for alternative energy champions” and “sinking oil prices could” hurt “plans to develop alternative sources of energy or fund green developments.”
In July, CBS's Early Show aired a piece on how high gas prices were killing people (Kyle Drennen's “CBS's Early Show: High Gas Prices Deadly for Sick and Elderly”) quoted this from reporter Kelly Wallace: :
In one rural California case, according to the president of Meals on Wheels nationwide, cutting back from daily deliveries to one every 14 days proved fatal. Two seniors were found dead.
Two months earlier, Drennen's “CBS's Glor: Woman 'Pumps Out Own Blood' to Afford to 'Pump Gas'” recounted:
Correspondent Jeff Glor reported on how “desperate times call for desperate measures. Some people are doing anything they can to save on gas, while others are trying to avoid buying gas altogether.” As one example, Glor highlighted a woman from San Antonio, Texas named Jessica Busby: “Then there's Jessica Busby, using her bike to get to a blood donation center two times a week. She pumps out her own blood, making $40 a pop so she has enough money to pump gas.”
Always finding the negative side to good news is nothing new at CBS News. From a September of 1990 MRC report on then-CBS News economics correspondent Ray Brady:
On October 12, 1989, home prices were down. That's great news for the buyers, but not for the sellers, so Brady focused on the sellers: “In the past, the American dream of owning your own home always had a sequel -- live in it, then sell it as a huge profit ...So another dream has faded.” On March 16, 1990, home prices were rising, so the conclusion switched to the buyers: “So they keep looking. Thousands of young couples like the Wares, looking for that first house, looking for what used to be called the American Dream.”
The story on the Thursday, November 13 CBS Evening News:
HARRY SMITH: Not all of the economic news is bad, take oil prices, crude settled at about $58 a barrel today, that's about $90 less than it was in July. But even that comes as a mixed blessing. Here's Mark Strassmann.

MARK STRASSMANN: In places like Atlanta, gas costs under $2.00 a gallon again, less than half its price in July.
                            
MAN AT GAS STATION: I'm happy about it, I'm ecstatic about it, I just hope they keep going down.

STRASSMANN: But low gas prices are also bad news and the lower prices go, the worse the news gets.

ANDY LIPOW, OIL ANALYST: This is just a reflection of the poor state of the economy and the oil market is reflecting this global slow down.

STRASSMANN: In other words, OPEC charges what it can get, not much in this bad economy. With unemployment at 14-year high and consumer confidence at a record low. Even with today's gas prices, road travel's still down 5% from a year ago. Gas may be cheap, but many people aren't driving to stores. Consumers say they plan to spend 40% less on holiday gifts this year than last year. And some analysts say it could be the worst holiday season for retailers since 1991.

T. BOONE PICKENS: Every President since Richard Nixon has been promising us energy independence.

STRASSMANN: It's also a grim time for alternative energy champions. Billionaire T. Boone Pickens suspended his massive wind power project in Texas, plunging natural gas prices dried up credit. Sinking oil prices could have the same impact on plans to develop alternative sources of energy or fund green developments.

JOHN RUTHERFORD SEYDEL, ENVIRONMENTAL DEVELOPER: It does have an effect, we're going to sort of separate the leaders from the stragglers.

STRASSMANN: One effect is already clear, more smiles at the pumps, and for some people that's good enough. Mark Strassmann, CBS News, Atlanta.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center